The Long March


There’s a hashtag going around twitter right now, asking people to mark the one year anniversary of pandemic-land taking over everything, #themoment. So, to mark this 366th day of March 1 I figured I’d share my own #themoment.

This time last year we we’d just hosted a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper with two other churches marking the beginning of a shared Lenten journey. We watched the Mr. Roger’s Documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and were going to use that theme to guide the three congregations through Lent and a shared Holy Week. I remember beginning to have misgivings even at that moment in late February, but they were quiet. I was almost unaware of them.

I believe the next week confirmed cases began popping up around the country. They’d already been present, of course, but that was when it began to dawn on folks that this was going to be disruptive for the whole country, and not just some pockets here and there. By the time the first Saturday in March rolled around local news was reporting our first presumptive positive in the area. We went out for dinner in the latter part of that week, which was stupid in retrospect, and by that time we were already having second thoughts about being out in crowds.

As that week unfolded I had an email conversation with a nurse in my congregation about the mitigation strategies we should be taking. We came up with the framework for a plan–no contact, remove shared objects like hymnals and print bulletins, social distancing in seating, and everyone coming into the building would be given a squirt of hand sanitizer. That Sunday was our first no contact “passing the peace,” and it made me smile to see one of our oldest members grinning and flashing a double peace sign to her friends. We knew there would need to be more done, but that was our starting point, and it was in place by March 8.

The next week everything went sideways.

On Wednesday I had my annual check up with my doctor, and talked with him about the concerns I had about the virus. Specifically, I asked about travel as I was scheduled to leave for a Spring Training trip with my eldest son the following Monday. I left my doctor’s office convinced, for the first time, that I should cancel my trip. That was #themoment for me. The next day Major League Baseball shut down. I remember picking up my wife from her school that Friday, by that point there’d already been school shut downs in Pennsylvania, and talking with the principal. There was a sense of foreboding in the building as people departed, folks weren’t sure what was going to happen. My wife and I determined that we’d get as much of her things as we could, just in case she wouldn’t be allowed back in the building. Things were unsettling.

The following Sunday a lot of folks opted to say home. Indeed, over the course of the week I had a few folks contact me to tell me they wouldn’t be back until after the pandemic 2. It was sad to see so many familiar faces not in the sanctuary on March 15th, but I understood and respected people who were trying to be wise as best they could. I’d already announced that I’d cancelled my trip 3, and had begun looking ahead to the coming slog. That Saturday our Church council determined that we’d be moving to remote-only for the following two weeks, with the understanding that we’d have to revisit the situation from there 4.

Later that day my wife got the news that her school would be closed on Monday for a teacher in-service, and we knew what that would mean. It was announced statewide on March 16th that schools would be going all remote, but the district had already been making plans the previous week. Restaurants and entertainment venues shuttered, and I made my first homemade mask using a washcloth and a rubber band.

The long March had begun. One day, it will end.

One day, but only after too many lives have been lost.

  1. Or is it now the first day of the second year of March? Can someone give me the correct way to mark time? I don’t know any more. 
  2. It had just been declared a pandemic the previous Wednesday by the WHO. 
  3. And began my fight to get my travel insurance to pay out. 
  4. Oh, did we revisit the situation. Over and over and over and over. 

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